U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May sent a letter on 20 March to European Council (EC) President Donald Tusk to ask for an extension to Brexit.
His reply, released via a statement, was: Yes, you can have a short extension, but only if the House of Commons approves the negotiated deal. In his statement, Tusk said: “If the leaders approve my recommendations, and if there is a positive vote in the House of Commons next week, we can finalise and formalise the decision on the extension in a written procedure.”
But May’s negotiated deal has already been overwhelmingly rejected twice, most recently on 12 March. This last rejection was followed shortly by a favourable vote to stop the United Kingdom from leaving the European Union without a deal; after that, there was another favourable vote for an extension to the Article 50 period—this last vote leading to May’s letter. The deal’s potential success on a third vote would seem unlikely. Perhaps even more devastating: The Speaker of the House—essentially the person in charge—said he would not allow the deal to be put before the House for a vote again unless it was “fundamentally different—not in terms of wording, but different in terms of substance.” The EC has already made it very clear that no further revisions of the deal are possible, yet May remains adamant in her letter that she will “bring the deal back to the House.”
“We are now in the midst of a full-scale national crisis. Incompetence, failure and intransigence from the prime minister and her government have brought us to this point.”
Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn
It appears she hopes to do this by having the EC confirm the minor changes it had earlier proposed to the backstop agreement—the part of the deal that will prevent the establishment of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. That “amendment,” however, was already known and considered before the second vote. It appears May will attempt to use the “confirmation” of this slight change as the “fundamental difference” the Speaker is demanding. For this reason, she intends, according to the letter, to put forward a motion under Section 13 of the Withdrawal Act 2018 for the orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. And she says that she is confident “Parliament will proceed to ratify the deal.”
Opposition to the deal continues to be very strong, however, with both the U.K. press and a large number of Members of Parliament continuing to raise questions about May’s tactics and oppose the current deal, respectively.
“The outcome of a long extension would be endless hours and days of this house carrying on contemplating its navel on Europe and failing to address the issues that matter to our constituents.”
Prime Minister Theresa May
May has asked for a short extension to 30 June, ostensibly to avoid having to hold elections for members of the European Parliament, which—if the United Kingdom leaves—would appear to be wasteful and unnecessary. Tusk, however, has not promised that any delay will last even that long. And regardless of the application for an extension and the vote to prevent a no-deal exit, fears of a no-deal exit continue. The Financial Times reported that the United Kingdom would lose £1tn (U.S. $1.32 trillion) of financial assets to Europe due to Brexit.